Damien Schofield’s father and grandfather both fought to protect Australia, but it wasn’t until his friends entered the defence force that he got a whole new perspective on the repercussions of fighting in war.
Damien, from Bangalow in NSW, set up The Younger Heroes as a program focused on reuniting parents and their children after deployment.
But as the organisation grew, so did its scope.
He said he founded the program after few mates took their own lives.
“I had a lot of mates doing back-to-back deployments, anywhere from five to 11 deployments,” Damien said.
“Not all, but I saw some disconnect in families and breakdowns.”
The Younger Heroes has since added specialised programs for first responders, healthcare workers and NSW Police.
“It is a three-day, nature-based program, Damien said.
“It’s an opportunity to disconnect from technology to strengthen those bonds with their children.
“To drop seeds and teach them about generational trauma.”
Damien said he was working in drug and alcohol counselling but was motivated to do something after reflecting on his relationship with his father as a child.
“I saw a lot of clients at the time, a lot of their trauma, alcohol and drug dependency situations stemmed from their childhood,” he said.
“I put two and two together and I thought I need to do something for mental health.”
Father, son bond
Private Kerry Schofield was called into service for the Vietnam War in 1970, where he served as a machine gunner for two years.
Kerry was one of four servicemen to come from Willow Tree in north-west NSW.
He said they created lifetime friendships, even in the face of the stigma many soldiers experienced when returning from the conflict.
“There wasn’t alot of respect for us when we first came home from Vietnam,” Kerry said.
“I was fortunate I returned to a small community that welcomed me back.
“I didn’t go through what a lot of others did when I came home.”
Despite the accolades and medals he received, the impact from Kerry’s time in Vietnam had a lasting effect on the relationships with his family.
Kerry said much of how he felt after Vietnam particularly affected his son Damien.
“When someone is away on service, they miss out on a lot and sometimes they don’t reconnect with their family when they come home,” Kerry said.
“Damien set up [The] Younger Heroes because of what he had been through with me as an ex-servicemen.
“He has battled to get it to where it is now — I am very proud.”